Travel Anxiety Is Real: Expert Tips To Help Stay Calm During Holiday Travel
The day before Thanksgiving marks the busiest travel day of the year. TSA stated that it expects to see 2.7 million passengers and crew through security lines today alone. And according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in the last year, a little more than 20% of flights were delayed. Read: one in five flights.
That's a lot of travel stress to be had in one day! So we gathered our favorite stress-relieving tips for your travel plans for the holiday and beyond.
First things first: Travel anxiety is a real thing
"When we talk about travel, we need to acknowledge that travel anxiety is a real entity, and some people really do suffer from acute travel anxiety. And we do know a percentage of the population does suffer from an anxiety disorder, so those people especially can anticipate that when they travel, they might suffer from anxiety or even a panic attack," says board-certified psychiatrist Indra Cidambi, M.D.
Time away should give you a break from everyday stressors and offer you a chance to recharge, recoup, and enjoy much-needed time with family over the holiday season. The travel to get you there? Clearly less so. Maybe it's TSA lines that wind and weave, flight delays with little information about takeoff and no end in sight, or missed layovers that leave you stranded in a random city, carving into your precious days off or family time. Do you feel an uptick in your heartbeat just reading that? I certainly do.
Plus, when you are in the midst of travel mishaps, you're likely not in a great setting to calm yourself (overcrowded gates don't offer the best vibes). And you're likely surrounded by less-than-healthy eating options, which can exacerbate the issue (airports are getting better with this, but fast food still abounds). So if you find yourself stuck, anxious, and restless during travel, there are a few things you can do:
Always plan ahead
To start, make sure you are calm from the get-go, she says. Check in via mobile apps or fill out any form you might need to beforehand (like if you are coming back on an international flight, always fill out the customs form on the plane, not while you are waiting in line). And when you enter the airport, turn on your most calming, relaxing playlist. "This will put you in a good mindset and distract you," she says.
Have an anxiety SOS game plan
"The most important thing you can do is to come up with a coping mechanism before you leave," says Cidambi. "Have a plan in place before your trip, so if you feel anxiety coming on, you already know what you are going to do."
If you feel anxiety coming on, there are a few easy techniques to try:
- Practice proper breathing using your stomach muscles, and reduce breathing through your chest. Here are our favorite breathwork practices to try.
- Count backward from 100. "If you ask people to count upward, they can do it quickly, but doing it backward forces people to slow down," she says.
- Splash your face with cold water to bring yourself into the moment. "When someone is having a panic attack, it's very difficult to talk them out of it; sometimes you need something physical to pull yourself out," she says.
And if your kids are the ones with anxiety? One of education expert and author Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.Ed.'s go-to tips when helping a spiraling kid is to have them chew gum. When doing so, tell them to focus on the slow, repetitive movement. "Tell your kid to focus on chewing slowly and to really pay attention to each bite," she says. "It will help them break out of their anxiety."
Be mindful of what you are eating and drinking
What we put into our bodies affects how we feel. And on the flip side, when we're not eating enough, it may trigger anxiety too.
"Two things tend to happen: One, you get through TSA, rush to your flight, and then you're on the plane and don't have anything nutritious to eat. So you're on the plane with an empty stomach, and your anxiety can increase. Then when you land, you might be tired because you didn't have a snack or meal," says Cidambi.
"The second is that the person will check in and immediately go to the restaurant and start eating and drinking," she says. "And alcohol can end up increasing anxiety. Especially avoid red wine; the sulfites in that can cause headaches and nausea."
Make sure to stock up on a few healthy snacks you can munch on during the flight, so when you arrive at your destination, you don't feel sluggish or irritated.
Factor in buffer time
"Come back the day before the vacation ends," says Cidambi. "People pack their travel itinerary so tightly, meaning they leave the first day they have off work, and they come back the night before. That's a big no because they don't have room for things to go wrong, like delays."
Plus, coming back from a vacation or family time can feel like the Sunday scaries on steroids—so factoring in a full or half-day for you to do laundry, fit in a workout, and get your things in order can help alleviate that stress.
The holidays can be stressful for lots of folks. Add travel plans on top of that? That's ripe for a panic attack. Experts recommend that you have a plan in place, give yourself grace, and be sure to keep up your healthy eating habits—all of these can help ease anxiety.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.